MANILA -- A lawyer of the Ampatuans attempted Wednesday to discredit a witness in the Maguindanao massacre by inquiring about his alleged pending criminal cases before a local court in Mindanao.

During cross examination of Buluan town Vice Mayor Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose wife and relatives were among those killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre, defense lawyer Sigfrid Fortun told the court that Toto has a murder case in 2001 and was a respondent in multiple attempted murder complaints and illegal possession of firearms before the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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Fortun also said that his client -- Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. -- was tagged in the mass killings solely for political bitterness.

“It's a case of two warring families. There is no difference between you (Mangudadatu) and the Ampatuans because both are politically entrenched,” Fortun told the court.

Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera, however, objected to the questioning, which was granted by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Admission

In Wednesday’s hearing at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame, Mangudadatu admitted that some of his relatives are holding key government positions in Maguindanao and that his family is no different from the Ampatuans.

Three brothers of the sixth witness are incumbent mayors in Maguindanao province. Sultan Kudarat Representative Pax Mangudadatu is his uncle, while Governor Sukarno "Teng" Mangudadatu is his cousin.

Toto is running against Ampatuan Jr. for the gubernatorial post in the coming May elections.

The vice mayor also admitted that when he submitted his first affidavit on November 26 in General Santos City, he had not been to the killing fields at Sitio Masalay, Barangay (village) Salman in Ampatuan town.

“All these statements against the Ampatuans, despite your absence, are all your opinion?” asked Fortun, to which Toto answered in the affirmative.

Fortun then went on scoring the vice mayor for having no first-hand account on the incident and for easily blaming the Ampatuans just because they were powerful.

He also zeroed in on the lack of urgency for Toto to respond after receiving a call from his wife that the convoy was blocked by armed men supposedly of the Ampatuans.

The vice mayor, however, replied that his relatives stopped him from going by himself due to security threats.

“I really want to go there to see what happened to my wife, relatives, lawyers, and friends in media but my brother Khadaffi prevented me from going,” he said.

For Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila de Lima, Fortun was “obviously trying to discredit the character of Mangudadatu.”

Relief from Asean

Meanwhile, during a 10-minute break, Harry Roque, counsel for the widows of journalists who were also killed in the Maguindanao massacre, filed a complaint before an international human rights body against the government for failing to prevent the mass murder.

The widows of the slain journalists filed the 23-page complaint before the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, an international human rights body based in Jakarta and composed of advocates from Asean member-countries.

The filing, said Roque, was to ensure that suspects, including Ampatuan Jr., will not escape justice.

Ampatuan Jr. earlier pleaded not guilty to additional 15 murder raps leveled against him in connection with the massacre.

The additional charges were brought to Manila from the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court.

Last January 5, the prime suspect also pleaded not guilty for the 41 murder cases filed against him by state prosecutors.

Overall, 56 murder charges have been filed against him with some members of his clan facing rebellion charges.

The prosecution said another count of murder, which would represent the 57th victim of the massacre, would be filed against Ampatuan Jr. as soon as the body of the missing victim is found and identified.

Most painful death

In other developments during the hearing, Dr. Ricardo Rodaje told the court that Toto's wife, Jenalyn Mangudadatu, "suffered a most painful death."

Rodaje, the medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)-Sarangani District Office, said the victim sustained injuries due to 17 gunshot wounds, 16 of which are fatal and three incised wounds.

The lacerations are located below the navel, part of the external genitalia, and right side of the groin.

Upon Toto's consent, the prosecution panel presented photographs of Jenalyn's body in the early stage of decomposition and to which Rodaje identified each of the gunshot wounds.

“It is evident that the victim died, cruelly, brutally, and treacherously. She must have suffered a most painful death,” said Rodaje, the doctor who autopsied Jenalyn's cadaver on early dawn of November 25.

He said the autopsy started at 1:17 a.m. and lasted for four hours at the Narciso Allen Funeral Homes in Koronadal City, South Cotabato.

He added that Jenalyn was killed using a high-powered firearm at close range, and in a lying or standing position.

There was no indication that the victim was raped, Rodaje said.

But Toto, on the showing of the second gunshot wound picture, left the court because he "couldn't stand the images anymore."

During the cross examination, Fortun also blasted Rodaje and the NBI for allowing embalmers throw away Jenalyn's clothing, a piece of evidence that he said could help shed light on who inflicted the lacerations.

Rodaje replied that it is not a practice at the NBI to keep such items since the office has no refrigeration unit.

“The clothes were already stained with blood and they were already sticking to the corpse,” Rodaje said.

Wednesday’s hearing ended earlier at 1:45 p.m., far from the usual past 4 p.m. adjournment. It will resume on February 10 with Rodaje, Dr. Raymond Cabling, medico-legal officer of PNP-General Santos, and Noh Akil will be the next prosecution witnesses. (Virgil Lopez/With PNA/Sunnex)